CAIRO — Large marches of protesters chanting antimilitary slogans streamed from mosques around Cairo to join tens of thousands massed in central Tahrir Square in a new uprising anniversary rally Friday, with many demanding an early transfer of power by the ruling military and the trial of generals for the killing of protesters.
Tensions erupted when one march of hundreds of protesters headed toward the Defense Ministry building and was met by dozens of supporters of the military who chanted "the army and people are one hand." The pro-military group formed a human chain across an intersection, but the protesters pushed through them, shouting "down with military rule."
The protests,which included mass rallies in other Egyptian cities, commemorated the first anniversary of the "Friday of Rage," one of the bloodiest days of the 18-day wave of protests a year ago that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
In last year's "Friday of Rage," Mubarak's security forces fired on protesters marching toward Tahrir from around the capital, killing and wounding hundreds. Protesters battled back for hours until Mubarak's widely hated police forces collapsed and withdrew from the streets.
A year later, protesters' focus is now on demands that the military, which has ruled since Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster, leave power. But Islamists and liberal, secular-leaning "revolutionary" protesters are divided. The revolutionaries want the generals out immediately, while the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now the most powerful bloc in parliament, is willing to wait for the military's promises to step aside by the end of June.
The leftists and secular groups accuse the military of being as dictatorial as Mubarak and of seeking to preserve their power even after handing over their authority to civilians. Regardless of the timetable, there is widespread resentment that little has been done to dismantle Mubarak's regime and prosecute security officers for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during and after the anti-Mubarak uprising. They call for more protests, while the Brotherhood wants to focus power on parliament. At the same time, there is also significant weariness over the continuing turmoil among Egyptians who are struggling with a worsening economy.
The differing tone was visible in Tahrir. Brotherhood supporters treated the day as a celebration of the victory of the "revolution," while non-Islamists insist there can be no celebrations when so many demands are unmet.
Some in the square shouted against the Brotherhood, chanting at them, "Get off the stage." Brotherhood supporters on a stage they have set up in the square tried to drown them out, blaring the national anthem and religious songs from multiple loudspeakers.
Amid the crowds in Tahrir, a Muslim cleric delivered a boisterous Friday sermon, proclaiming that the protesters, not the military, have the right to determine the country's course.
"Our right is to dictate the decisions of the revolution," said the cleric, Muzhar Shahine, speaking from a stage set up by leftist and secular groups, as the crowd cheered and cried, "God is great."
He gave a litany of the unrealized changes sought by the revolution.
"A year later, has State Security really been dissolved," he said, referring to Mubarak's feared internal security force that was the backbone of his police state. "Has our land been freed?" He said state media, a key mouthpiece for Mubarak and now the military, must be purged, a constitution must be written that is "shared by all political parties and that gives rights for all of Egypt's children," and Christians must be given the same rights as Muslims.
Rallies of thousands of protesters moved from main mosques all around Cairo toward Tahrir, chanting "we want civilian, not military." Some young men had shaved the words "down with military rule" in their hair cuts. in one rally from Cairo's Shubra neighborhood, a young man representing a slain protester was carried on other men's shoulders as a long Egyptian flag was unfurled down the boulevard.
Some were critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, which many suspect will not push for real reforms now that it has won a dominant place in parliament and which they fear is willing to strike a deal with the military that would give the general's some continued power. The Brotherhood denies any deal.
"We can't celebrate when there's no justice for those killed," 30-year-old protester Amr Sayyed said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about justice, but not how or when."
"This is a day of mourning, not celebration," said Abdel-Hady el-Ninny, the father of a slain protester, Alaa Abdel-Hady. He and his family carried large posters of his son around Tahrir.
Friday's protests come two days after hundreds of thousands packed into Tahrir to mark the Jan. 25 start of the uprising against Mubarak. That rally, too, was marked by similar divisions.
There were increasing calls among many protesters for presidential elections to be moved up to April to select a civilian for the military to give its powers as head of state. Under the military's timetable, presidential elections would be held by late June after a new constitution is written, and after the election it would step down.
A youth umbrella group of liberal political forces and activists named "Our Egypt" or "Masrana" said in a statement Thursday, "the demand is single and clear: a president first."
A large banner in Tahrir on Friday demanding the presidential vote before the constitution.
Moving up the vote would also move up the transfer of power from the military. Supporters of the idea also want the constitution written under the rule of a civilian president, fearing that if the military still holds the reins it can force provisions that give it a political say or prevent civilian oversight.
There are other proposals, including handing power to the parliament speaker. Pro-reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei proposed that parliament elect a temporary president until the constitution is written, then presidential elections could be held. "After a year of stumbling, it is time to agree on correcting the path."
The Muslim Brotherhood has remained neutral in terms of what comes first since it plans not to field a candidate of its members in presidential elections and it doesn't want to anger the military generals for fear of sabotaging its parliament victory.
The Brotherhood holds just under half the seats in the new parliament, giving it considerable influence over the writing of the constitution. Parliament is supposed to appoint a 100-member panel to draft the document.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company